Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 098: No Comment

Sulu confirms: "Yes sir."

Kirk continues: "Otherwise we'll contact the Enterprise when we're ready to beam back."  This seems a relatively sensible, reasonable set of instructions from Kirk, suspiciously unlike what we've seen during the past hour and a half of the film.

"Good luck." Sulu adds from the Bridge.
 
Kirk walks up to the transporter pad as Spock makes out with Uhura, followed with an extended shot of Kirk gawking at Spock and Uhura kissing.

Spock: "I will be back."  That's a fairly stupid comment given the uncertainty of the situation, but is a boilerplate cliche in films where the hero is about to leave his loved one for a dangerous mission.

"You better be... I'll be monitoring your frequency."  It is possible she may be doing this, but by no means certain, unless there is no Captain aboard to give orders that she take care of possibly more urgent communications needs for the ship, its entire crew, the survival of Earth, or the Federation.  However, since McCoy has disappeared and is not around to remind us that Kirk has again left the Enterprise without a Captain or First Officer, we may assume that although we are still supposedly in the middle of a galactic emergency, we can pretend like everything is just..."O... K..."

"Thank you Nyota." Spock says with a tone suggesting more long-term familiarity.  Perhaps when we heard that back at the Academy he was reporting her extraordinary "aural" skills, we may have misinterpreted, and used the incorrect homophone, and it was "oral test" results being graded.
Uhura leaves with Scotty staring dumbly at her in near shock as if he's never seen a couple kiss or read any of the smash hit "Vulcan Love Slave" series, wildly popular in print, but quadrant-wide phenoms as one of the biggest holosuite series successes of all time. After a long pause Kirk, an another ridiculously inappropriate attempt at humor asks "So, her first name's Nyota?"

To which Spock icily snaps: "I have no comment on the matter."
  
"Okie-dokie," announces Scotty "if there's any common sense to the design of the enemy ship I should  be putting you somewhere in the cargo bay.  Shouldn't be a soul in sight."  Hopefully "somewhere" doesn't include materializing inside anything solid, or anywhere above the metallic canyons which constitute nearly 100% of the internal space of the Narada.
 
"Energize!" orders Kirk.

Of the 10 spoken lines in this segment Saldana, as the only female appearing, has a single line.

Another senseless gunfight in our next episode: Star Trek by the Minute 099: Phaser Kicks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 097: Arrival at Titan

The Enterprise jumps out of warp in a beautifully rich fog of dense brown clouds.

Sulu: "Give me one-quarter impulse burst for 5 seconds, I'll do the rest with thrusters.  On my mark..."

Chekov confirms "Aye."

"Fire."
The ship rises from the clouds with what we can only guess are the thrusters Sulu mentioned.  What follows is almost certainly one of the signature scenes from the film, with the Enterprise rising majestically from the clouds with Saturn and its rings in the background.  As we have come to expect, the shot was designed to look cool rather than be scientifically accurate in any way, and its a shame they couldn't have simply set the adventure somewhere else so the script's blatant ignorance was less jarring for viewers who simply wanted to enjoy a good story told well.

Despite how beautiful the CGI is, does this giant flashing Christmas Tree of a starship look anything like it's trying to be "undetectable"?  Wouldn't we normally do something like...I don't know...maybe...turn off the friggin' HIGH BEAM SPOTLIGHTS!?!?  Seriously, is this a stealth mission or the grand opening of a payday lender and check cashing franchise?  How could a drunken rugby player miss this colossal hulk of a ship, much less the super sensors aboard the borgtapus of death?  Further, does that background look like we are seeing the rings from less that one half of one degree inclination?  This shot looks like it could be offset by 100 times the real angle of Titan relative to Saturn's equator, and finally: why in the world is the ship facing away from the plane of the solar system, and Earth, where the Narada is located?  Is it stupidity?  Laziness?  Apathy?  Your guess, dear reader, is no worse than mine.

Sulu reports: "Transporter room, we are in position above Titan."  Well, DUH!  We might think that if the ship had come out of warp below the surface of the moon, everyone would probably have noticed, and "above" and "below" are meaningless in space.  If the ship rolls 180 degrees is it now "below" Titan?

In cognitive science studies, we would call Sulu's description an example of observer-centric bias.  This is the kind of perceptual distortion that science helps overcome, for example: it is natural for us not to feel any motion and to conclude quite reasonably the movement of the sun is real motion rather than resulting from planetary rotation at incredible speed over ludicrously large distances, even though we now know this is the case.  Similarly, since our earliest perceptions are formed in an orderly environment controlled by powerful, seemingly omniscient adults, we quite naturally conclude observable order in nature and living things is similarly the result of supernatural forces, rather than physical and statistical laws operating over astronomical, unimaginable periods of time.

Montgomery Scott, now sitting at transporter control replies with surprise that is another inappropriate attempt a humor with "Really? Fine job Mr. Sulu, well done."  How does he know Sulu's name?  Perhaps he heard it on the Bridge and remembered it along with the other dozen crew members up there.  Spock, Kirk, and Uhura come charging into the transporter room right on cue, and Kirk asks "How're we doing Scotty?"

"Unbelievably sir, the ship is in position."

Kirk opens a channel to the Bridge and orders "Whatever happens Mr. Sulu, if you think you have the tactical advantage you fire on that ship even if we're still on board.  That's an order."

No women speak in this segment, although Uhura's presence as "background" is briefly tolerated.

Groping for the right words in our next installment of Star Trek by the Minute 098: No Comment.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 096: Earth, the Only Home I Have Left

"Also, my mother was human, which makes Earth the only home I have left," continues Spock.
 
Kirk steps up and says for no apparent reason, "I'm coming with you," expressing his intent to abandon HIS responsibilities as Captain, just as has almost every skipper we've seen in this film has done previously, like Robau, Pike, and Spock.

Spock says, "I would cite regulations, but I know that you would simply ignore it." This is a somewhat silly line and phrased awkwardly, ("ignore them" would be better) but compared to the rest of the script, it actually seems 'nice' in that it represents at least a likable interaction.

"See? We are getting to know each other."
  
In a cut to the Narada, (now with Google Earth access), Nero orders "Prepare the drill," which we see being lowered in yet another flawlessly beautiful exterior shot.
  
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is racing to the Sol system, and Sulu begins another countdown as this segment ends: "All stop in 3, 2, 1..."

This seems a good time to contrast Cho's recent comments summarizing his goals for working on Star Trek, following very much in line with the rest of the Abrams' team as discussed earlier a bit with regard to nUhura vs. Nichelle Nichols.  John Cho said he was really enthusiastic about getting back on the set for the next Star Trek film.  Like Roddenberry's teams on old Trek, did he want to help foster greater appreciation of science, teach virtues of discipline, an appreciation of peace, or foster greater tolerance for others?  Nope: he is not into "ideals" or making 'statements' about stuff.  He merely likes "just getting together with my friends" rather than engaging in any deep thought because this way, he has "a blast" and gets to "hang out" and enjoy "a very special feeling."  While this is sort of an improvement over Saldana's lusting to personally portray even more violence in the films, Cho doesn't seem aware of any of the franchise history, what makes work of real value, nor that the underlying attitudes and ignorance which support  them  are likely to result in unpleasant, real world consequences for which a normal person ought to feel some responsibility if they contribute to, and profit from that franchise.  Cho seems to have some dim perception that he is working on "a special project and a special franchise", but seems not to have a clue what made Trek a unique, inspiring, and an enduring body of work.  This seems merely sad, whereas Saldana's ignorance that violence is evil and her unrestrained enthusiasm for direct physical involvement in her character harming another feels truly chilling.

No doubt, she shares the attitude of nearly every aggressor that their abuse of power for violence is only in the service of  survival or defense, and no doubt, in the propagandist Abramsverse, her wish will be granted by the production team, giving nUhura the excuse for which Saldana has asked so she can attack her victim with the "strength" that only comes from a kind of moral purity one might call "vicious".  Heartfelt cheers and applause from audiences for her noble actions are certain, while others with gentler wisdom will be less appreciative of the scene.

No women speak in this segment.

A shipboard chain of command magically reappears after a convenient absence in our next segment of Star Trek by the Minute 097: Arrival at Titan.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 095: Magnetic Interference

Apropos of nothing, Sulu says: "I'm telling you the math doesn't add up," as Chekov approaches Kirk, McCoy, Sulu and Uhura clustered around a workstation.

"Captain Kirk! Captain Kirk!" calls Chekov.
 
"Yes Chekov, what is it?"

"Based on the Narada's course from Vulcan, I have projected that Nero will travel past Saturn.  Like you said, we will need to stay invisible to Nero or he'll destroy us.  If Mr. Scott can get us to warp factor 4 and if we drop out of warp behind one of Saturn's moons...say...Titan, the magnetic distortion from the planet's rings will make us invisible to Nero's sensors.  From there, as long as the drill is not actuated, we can beam aboard the enemy ship."
  
There are so many defects with this nonsense from Chekov it hard to choose a starting point in addressing them.  Let's take them in the order raised, first: how does Chekov know the name of Nero's ship, is he telepathic as well some kind of uber-techno-genius?  I don't recall the ship name being mentioned but perhaps somewhere in the preceding dialog it was.

So what if Nero will travel past Saturn?  Is the Narada unable to scan anything near a trajectory it has taken in the past?  That would be a pretty ridiculous defect for the ship that we are shown can easily detect, count, plot destinations, and even identify the politics of ships travelling at warp and even while they are many light-years away.  Watching the film, I got pretty tired of technology that keeps alternating between miraculously or even insanely powerful, and suddenly becoming less effective than a tapioca doorstop.  The characters are written in the same chaotic manner, leaping from supernaturally gifted telepath to salad grade idiot in a single comma splice.  How could the Narada's path be relevent to remaining "invisible"? It couldn't.

Checkov's next mistaken point is that remaining invisible to Nero requires a pursuit approach at a speed of warp 4.  What possible difference could that make to the sensors of a ship from the future where such a speed is considered fairly slow?  It couldn't make any at all.

Chekov's next error the notion that parking the Enterprise near Titan will somehow take advantage of magnetic interference.  The whiz kid clearly doesn't know his home planet's neighbors very well, since Saturn has a very weak magnetic field (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetosphere_of_Saturn) with only 5% of the flux found around Jupiter, and even that pitiful field strength is almost undetectable when measured over a million kilometers from Saturn where Titan orbits.  Why would anyone in their right mind who knew anything about Saturn and Jupiter suggest Chekov's proposal? They wouldn't.

Chekov's next goof refers to the non-existent "magnetic distortion from the planet's rings"  First: despite their beauty, grandeur, and complexity, Saturn's rings have no significant effect on the magnetic field surrounding that planet, and second Titan is 10 times further from Saturn than the last of the visible rings making them an unlikely source of potential interference for detection of a ship near Titan.
 
 
"Aye, that might work." chimes in Scotty, still getting water out of his ears.  Nearly drowning in a conduit, barely avoiding dismemberment in a turbine, and surviving what would normally be a fatal fall  in the engineering section of the starship in question apparently qualifies Mr. Scott to understand how to modify the maximum output of a ship launched while he was exiled to Delta Vega using engines he's never seen - and presumably he can do this while the ship is already at flank speed.  Anyone with even the mildest interest in engineering or maintenance can tell you how likely Chekov's proposed scenario is, and Scott's approval.  Neither is plausible, and the script continues to feature one nonsensical line following another...for example,
McCoy now asks: "Wait a minute kid, how old are you?"

"Seventeen, Sir."

"Oh, good...he's seventeen!"  Where is McCoy's questioning going? Nowhere at all as Spock appears magically on the Bridge without the sliding doors making a sound, (nor closing, are they broken?) apparently having not merely recovered from his breakdown of 60 seconds ago, but fully composed after 20 seconds of transporter room therapy with his lying Dad.  He proclaims "Mr. Chekov is correct."  The obvious question now would be, why are former Starfleet officers who RESIGNED now allowed to barge onto the Bridge and start announcing anything as if they had some authority?  This action itself suggests the former officer remains unfit for duty.

"I can confirm his telemetry," Spock continues as Uhura moves forward in a gorgeously framed shot, relatively free of camera shake and lens flares.  "...and if Mr. Sulu is able to maneuver us into position I can beam aboard Nero's ship, steal back the black hole device and and if possible, bring back Captain Pike." Whoever told Spock the black hole device was stolen?  Kirk is the only one who knows, and he was nonsensically sworn to secrecy by Spock Prime without any justification.

"I won't allow you to do that Mr. Spock." says acting Captain Kirk.  "Romulans and Vulcans share a common ancestry.  Our cultural similarities will make it easier for me to access the ship's computers and to locate the device."  At least we can be relieved that this foreshadows an infiltration and computer hacking scene, rather than another insipid shootout followed by Spock telepathically raping a disabled victim.

Of the six speaking roles in this segment, none are women.

Nero lowers the drill on Earth in Star Trek by the Minute 096: Earth, the Only Home I Have Left.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 094: Uncontrolled Anger

"You will always be a child of 2 worlds.  I am grateful for this, and for you," says Sarek.

Spock reveals the obvious: "I feel anger for the one who took Mother's life - an anger I cannot control."
 
"I believe that she would say 'Do not try to.'  You asked me once why I married your mother.  I married here because I loved her." The obvious question at this point would be: "Then why then did you lie to your son for so many years about the foundational nature of the family, are you abusively insane and or so insecure that admitting love for your family is beyond you?"  Sarek, supposedly one of the great leaders of Vulcan, in this scene of belated honesty now rises briefly to the level of a cold, unsupportive absentee parent and a major jerk, fitting in with most of the main characters' best momentary lapses into behavior almost near virtue.

In a cut to the Enterprise Bridge, we see Checkov beavering away on a transparent screen that may look cool, but would be hell to actually use.  In the background, we hear Kirk saying "Whatever the case, we need to get aboard Nero's ship undetected."  That's pretty clear exposition anyone should should be able to understand, even if Kirk provides no reasonable justification for his claim.

"We can't just go in there with guns blazing, Jim." disagrees McCoy in a completely nonsensical reply.  Kirk's comment directly advocates a stealth entry and obviously "guns blazing" would result in a detected, rather than undetected entry.  The dialog continues to make absolutely no sense, contradicting even its own arbitrary rules.  McCoy's medical school must have barely approved his degree in new age aromatherapy...probably because of his outstanding popularity  in sports.  I can imagine this Abrams' version of McCoy taking top honors in the Appalachian biathlon of banjo exorcism and endurance snake handling.

No women speak or appear in this segment.

The film advances on painfully bad science, clairivoyance, and the crew relying on more miraculous luck in our next episode of Star Trek by the Minute 095: Magnetic Interference.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 093: Prep for Battle Stations

 
"Thanks for the support" is Kirk's sarcastic response to McCoy's fallacious but overall appropriate incredulity at Kirk seizing captaincy.

Uhura then approaches Kirk to declare, "I sure hope you know what you're doing..." and almost an afterthought adding "...Captain," delightfully dripping with malice.

Glancing briefly up from his acting com officer's chest, (the glance passed too quickly for screen capture), Kirk replies "So do I..." in what could almost be considered a character development moment.  Here, our protagonist is given a total of 3 words expressing normal human emotions appropriate for having some awareness of his situation, the risks he is taking with many billions of lives, perhaps the survival of Earth and the Federation, and the fact that he has no plan and no practical knowledge of the enemy.  Sun Tzu describes this as ideal situation for losing a thousand battles, even if the commander has the ability to use words longer than 2 letters, unlike Kirk here.  Well, we can't all be geniuses...

As much as I like Zoe Saldana's looks and acting with the role she received, I can't help but consider her recent comments in at least one interview relative to those of Nichelle Nichols, the original series Uhura and how these differences illustrate the profound contrast between this film's worldview, and that of Roddenberry's better goals for Star Trek. 

While Nichols goal was determined to portray a strong, intelligent, professional black woman, she saw one of her proudest moments when she had the opportunity to meet with Martin Luther King Jr., who summarized the historic importance of her work by opining something close to: "You have taken our people into space and into the future." This was when African-Americans were still subject to race laws by government and widespread, degrading ignorance and hostility leading to violence, crushing poverty and endemic suffering that regrettably persists today and will be with us for some time.  The creators realized that science fiction offered a unique opportunity to address important issues of life, freedom, justice, and discrimination & violence against "others" (based on country, religion, economics, politics, etc.), and the original series tried to produce something of value with that opportunity, and make a reasonable profit at the same time.

The overwhelming focus of this film has been maximizing profit with Paramount Studios crowing to investors and the media about its zillions in profit from the film, yet the movie offers virtually nothing of substance for intelligent viewers.  It is a sloppily written plot relying on miracles and special effects, and pandering to our most xenophobic stereotypes and their attendant justifications and inevitable affinity for violence, war, and murder.  One cannot help but note that an inhuman corporation's "love of money is the root of" this picture's creation.  Principled criticism of this change in Star Trek is often met with "It's just a film!"  which is perfectly plausible in a coarse and materialistic way, and may also be said with equal accuracy of  "The Eternal Jew", but hypocrites never apply to themselves the rules they apply to others and deflecting criticism with apathy in one case is seen as having nothing to do with the other.

But what was Saldana's comment reflecting views in alignment with what some might call the "evil" of this film?  A significant aspiration for her role in the next film, she gushed, is to "get more action" which she suggested could be something like kicking a man in the groin.  Both with the film itself and comments from actors and production team members like Saldana's, I can understand why some fans of the earlier Trek efforts claim: "Star Trek is dead for me now."  From hoping Trek can bring greater justice and defend the weak to hoping Trek can have more violence...how the noble has fallen.

"Attention crew of the Enterprise" announces Kirk on ship-wide intercom, "Mr. Spock has resigned commission and advanced me to acting Captain."  That is a very unusual way to describe Spock's actions, i.e.: as a promotion.  Spock made no such mention of any intent like this.  In fact the story presented suggests he had gone further than merely relieving Kirk of duty.  As Spock considered Pike's decision initially a joke, he was later forced to waste valuable time during an emergency as Kirk ranted incoherently, then he finally had to order Kirk off the Bridge after Kirk began obstructing ship operations the defense of the Federation during a time of war, then Spock put Kirk off the ship for pick-up by the "authorities" after Kirk had begun violently attacking ship personnel.  Spock's resignation, (as silly and irrational as it was, and based on an insanely unworkable regulation Spock prime brought from an alternate universe), seems awfully mischaracterized by Kirk with this announcement, but at least he's merely lying to the ships crew, rather than trying to kill or injure them, so this dishonesty could be seen in a positive light - if one were desperate enough to try that.

"I know you were all expecting to regroup with the fleet," continues Kirk as Spock walks down the corridors, "but I'm ordering a pursuit course of the enemy ship.  I want all departments at battle stations and ready in 10 minutes. Either we're going down, or they are. Kirk out." 

We cut the the gorgeous transporter room set where Spock gazes at nothing in particular as Sarek approaches Spock and gently directs his son "Speak your mind, Spock."

"That would be unwise."

"What is necessary is never unwise."

"I am as conflicted as I once was as a child."

Uhura's one sentence line is the only female voice in this segment, out of the four speaking parts.

Sarek reveals to Spock that (gasp!) he loved his wife in Star Trek by the Minute 094: Uncontrolled Anger.

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